In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
God spoke these words through Isaiah to point out what is needed to find salvation and the strength that it brings to our lives in the here and now. The means are freely provided; the challenge is consistently making the choice to accept and use them.
God has given us here four keys to a life that is fully engaged with and empowered by Him. The first key is repentance. What is repentance, and why is it so foundational?
Repentance was the first item on Jesus’ preaching agenda, as we find in Matt 4:17 – From that time on, Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
C. H. Spurgeon noted that repentance has three aspects: “Repentance is a discovery of the evil of sin, a mourning that we have committed it, a resolution to forsake it. It is, in fact, a change of mind of a very deep and practical character, which makes the man love what he once hated, and hate what he once loved.”
The nature and impact of sin is perhaps the least understood and most neglected aspect of western Christianity today. Acknowledging and dealing with sin is extremely unpleasant and inconvenient, and we’re all about pleasure and convenience. The reality of sin shakes our complacency, upsets our self-esteem, and interferes with our whole lifestyle.
Instead of taking our sins to God for forgiveness, we take it upon ourselves to excuse and/or forgive our sins and the sins of those we love. Jesus loves sinners but hates sin. Too often, we’ve swallowed the lie that we can’t really love the sinner unless we validate the sin; that unless we accept certain sins, even though God has clearly denounced them, we are ignorant, intolerant, and hopelessly out-of-date. So we decide that sexual sins aren’t really so bad, that it’s okay to fudge expense claims, that little white lies don’t hurt anyone, etc., etc., etc.
When we’re in this modern mode, we forget that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He doesn’t change, and neither does sin and what it does to us. Sin that is not repented of separates us from God. It entangles us so that we not only stumble but fall. Without real repentance, we are lost. Sin matters. Jesus suffered and died so that we could be forgiven for sin, but we can only be forgiven when we realize our precarious state. Satan constantly soft-pedals sin; we can’t afford to.
Repentance starts with the realization that I am sinful. This isn’t about anyone else, it’s about me. I can’t let myself off the hook because I’m not as bad as some people; I can’t make excuses; I can’t blame someone else. Unless and until I realize that I’ve been trying to run my own life according to my own rules, I can’t repent.
The need for repentance is universal. No one is exempt, as Scripture consistently makes clear:
Ps. 53:3 – Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Rom 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
1 John 1:8-9 – If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
The bottom line is, I’m not God, and I need to repent of trying to be. But that’s only the beginning. Repentance is deeply personal and specific. It’s a journey of self-awareness I’m not eager to take, but need to. Knowing my sinful condition and realizing my total inability to cleanse myself is essential to true repentance. If I’m not probing deep enough to make me wince, I’m not going far enough. If I don’t come to grips with my sin, I’ll be kidding myself and won’t ever mature in my faith. Confession is not only good for the soul; it’s vital.
Ps. 51:2 – Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3-4(a) – For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned . . .
19 – My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.
The natural result of realizing my sin is to feel sorrow. If I’m not sorry, I haven’t repented. It’s important to differentiate on two points here. First, the sorrow I feel has to be for my sin, not the consequences of it. It’s easy to feel sorry about the negative results of my actions, instead of the actions themselves. Second, I need to guard against ongoing feelings of guilt after God has forgiven me. This kind of persistent bad feeling comes from Satan, not God. Both of these are the kind of worldly sorrow that Paul speaks of in 2 Cor 7:10 – Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.
The third aspect of repentance is a consistent desire and determination to live like Jesus; to become more and more like Him. Repentance is ongoing, a continuous process. J. I. Packer has put it this way: “Repentance means turning from as much as you know of your sin to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of your God, and as our knowledge grows at these three points so our practice of repentance has to be enlarged.” (Keep in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God.)
I will sometimes stumble on the path to righteousness, but repentance will put me back on the right road. I can’t use a stumble as an excuse to fall. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of my salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Ps. 51:10-12)
The vital nature of repentance is evident in the fact that God sent John the Baptist to proclaim it before Jesus began to teach. Those who understood and acted on their need for repentance were able to understand and accept Jesus. Luke 7:29-20 – (All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.)
When things go wrong, when trials pile up, when confusion reigns, it’s time to ask if God is giving us a strong heads-up there are things in us that need addressing through repentance. As the Spirit of Jesus says in Rev 3:19 — “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent!”
REPENTANCE IS THE KEY THAT UNLOCKS THE DOOR TO FORGIVENESS, CLEANSING, REAL GROWTH AND NEW LIFE IN CHRIST.
Next: The Key of Rest